CLAYTON RAWSON – The Great Merlini: The Complete Short Stories of the Magician Detective. Gregg Press, hardcover, 1979. Introduction by Eleanor Sullivan. Also currently available as a Kindle edition.

   For those of us who have Clayton Rawson’s Merlini novels but who lack most of the early issues of EQMM, the knowledge that there are Merlini short stories has been tantalizing — and, over the past decade, frustrating. Around 1970, Frederic Dannay considered collecting the stories in his “Ellery Queen Presents” series; and a few years later, the Aspen Press told several of us that it planned to publish such a volume. Nothing came of these plans until Otto Penzlet and Gregg Press produced this handsome volume.

   The book is well worth the wait. But to begin negatively, several of the Merlini stories were written as EQMM contests, and these can hardly be called ingenious; indeed, the stories make me wonder how Queen was able to determine the winner from the many (I assume) correcr answers.

   Much better are the longer tales. “From Another World” is probably, the beat, short story/novelette (except for the works of Carr) ever written about an impossible crime. “Off the Face of the Earth” is the most satisfactory explanation of one of the most difficult of miracle problems — how someone can disappear from a telephone booth under constant observation. “Miracles — All in a Day’s Work” and “Nothing Is Impossible” are almost as good, though I suspect that Rawson would have altered their titles for book publication.

   In short, these four stories alone make it worth scraping up almost ten bucks for tl1e book. As Eleanor Sullivan says in the introduction (slightly misquoting Dannay) this is certainly a Queen’s Quorum book.

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 3, Number 4 (July-August 1980).